Sunday 5 February 2023

Mr. Vampire

Jumpire State

Mr. Vampire
aka Geung see sin sang
Hong Kong 1985 Directed by Ricky Lau
Golden Harvest/
Eureka Masters Of Cinema
Blu Ray Zone B

I’ve been wanting to see Mr. Vampire for a while now. Firstly because a friend of mine has been recommending I should watch it since Eureka Masters Of Cinema released it a couple of years ago. Secondly because the main vampire elder in the film appears as a major threat to the main protagonist in Kim Newman’s first Anno Dracula novel, originally appearing as a character in that tome in a chapter called Mr. Vampire (a review of Anno Dracula and various sequels should be appearing on the blog sometime this year, if all goes well). Thirdly, it gets huge accolades and 9 star reviews from people and was successful enough to spawn, not only a number of sequels but also a remake followed by more sequels to that. So, yeah, this film is certainly thought of as something of a classic.

Hmmm... not quite sure why but, it’s certainly an entertaining picture, if not a great one.

The film stars Ching-Ying Lam as Master Gau. Lam would appear in a few of the sequels and remakes, sometimes playing this character and, sometimes not, from what I can make out. He is the head of a local mortuary but when he and his ‘hilarious’ aides try to rebury an old coffin after twenty years, on the instructions passed onto the son, now head of a local family, it turns out there’s an elder vampire in there (presumably the Mr. Vampire of the title?) who breaks free from his coffin and starts attacking people. One of Gau’s crazy little helpers gets half vamped up at some point and a lot of the second half of the movie is about trying to stop him turning completely and also curing the other helper of a ghostly enchantment. Oh... that’s right... if this isn’t enough, there seems to be a ghost lady who is in love with the other helper and has enchanted him with a night of ghost sex.

And, yeah... it’s a comedy but, it’s of the slapstick variety mainly so it’s not the kind of thing I would usually laugh at. People who have seen this movie always seem to mention about the ‘hopping’ vampires (and assorted corpses who I think are technically zombies, compared to the main vampires in the movie) but I wouldn’t say they are specifically hopping. More like jumping in little jumps to get to their destination. And, this action doesn’t seem consistent throughout the film, it has to be said. For example, in the final battle with the elder vampire (which also includes some help from the ghost gal), the vampire no longer jumps and just walks around normally for, well, no apparent reason. Or at least as much lack of reason as to why he would jump around everywhere in the first place, to be honest.

The film looks fine, has nice colours and some agreeable comedy acting, especially from Lam’s ‘straight man’ Van Helsing style role as Master Gau. There’s also some pretty good and athletic fight choreography (plus wire work) which is quite well choreographed and, whatever else you might say about the movie, it’s certainly not dull. As is more normal in the Hong Kong cinema scene as opposed to, say, America... there are a lot of actors and actresses who seem to be doing their own stunts in this one and it all looks good.

One curio is the fact that, when she needs to, the ghost lady has a detachable, flying head. Certainly not the first use of this particular trope, for sure but, to tell the truth, I’m more used to this ‘head flying around and trying to kick your ass’ style shenanigans in Indonesian movies rather than in films from anywhere else. Still, always a nice thing to see so I’m certainly not knocking it.

So, yeah, a short review then, of Mr. Vampire, in which I can conclude, since my dad made me pause it whenever he had to go out of the room, that it’s certainly got something going for it and it’s quite watchable, if not the absolute classic that I’d been set up to be expecting. Definitely worth a watch if you are into these kinds of martial arts comedies but, perhaps, best left alone if the lack of subtlety on such things is not to your taste. I’m pretty much on the fence about this one but suspect I will be watching it more than once in my lifetime.

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